NHL on NBCSN: Which teams make the most sense for Pierre-Luc Dubois trade?

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

[UPDATE: Dubois has been dealt to the Winnipeg Jets for Patrik Laine.]

In the NHL, you don’t see a lot of situations along the lines of James Harden forcing his way out of Houston in just about the least nuanced way possible. Usually, you barely hear a rumbling about a high-profile player wanting out. So, by the standards of headline-averse NHL GMs, it’s already surprising just how public the Pierre-Luc Dubois trade situation became for the Blue Jackets.

While we don’t know why Dubois wants the Blue Jackets to trade him, John Tortorella hasn’t been shy about confirming those rumors.

It’s all shocking because a) Dubois signed an extension with the Blue Jackets and b) players of his caliber, especially at his age (22), rarely become available in the NHL trade market. Now, this doesn’t mean that the Blue Jackets are itching to trade Dubois immediately. GM Jarmo Kekalainen is known as one of the NHL’s cagiest executives. But it sure seems like something has to happen, and for all we know, a trade could happen soon.

Until something happens, we must wait and speculate. So why don’t we?

Door 1: The … Blue Jackets?

Again, it’s no secret that Dubois wants out from the Blue Jackets. And maybe it’s something we’ll only hear murmurs about, like Chris Pronger’s abrupt departure from Edmonton.

But what if it’s simply a matter of Dubois wanting a trade to get away from the coach the Blue Jackets have stuck with? It’s fair to wonder if Torts was as much a repellant for, say, Artemi Panarin, as the New York market was a draw. (This is hockey, so we’ll rarely hear anyone come out and say it.)

After all, Torts isn’t denying his abrasive side, including in how he deals with the young center.

” … He has been honest with the group,” Tortorella told 97.1 The Fan. “I wish he was a little bit more honest as far as reasons why. Still haven’t really gotten to that, but I think he needs to speak on that. I won’t.”

I’m sorry, but Tortorella wondering why Dubois wants to be traded from the Blue Jackets feels almost like Torts is begging people to break out the “I Think You Should Leave” hot dog guy meme.

So … let’s say, hypothetically, it’s all about Torts. You know, the guy always barking at Dubois.

Well, Tortorella’s current contract appears to run out after this season. What if Kekalainen speaks with Dubois, realizes it’s instead a Torts-or-trade situation, and *gulp* chooses the 22-year-old center carrying an affordable $5M cap hit through next season?

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It’s easy to paint Tortorella as a Rembrandt of a coach because of the Blue Jackets’ scrappy underdog work. But what if a coach drives out star players, thus dooming his team to being perpetual underdogs?

If it’s really all about Tortorella, then the Blue Jackets should ask themselves some tough questions before trading Dubois. Most of the time, the team that trades the budding 22-year-old star player tends to lose that trade. Badly.

Especially when everyone knows that the star player wants out.

Door 2: Patrik Laine/Jets and other “trade your problem” Dubois possibilities

The Blue Jackets keeping Dubois would probably be the biggest win for Columbus. (Although Tortorella would not go quietly.)

But for fans of the sport? A high-profile player-for-player trade would force us to gather a potentially ruinous amount of popcorn.

The most buttery hypothetical would involve the Blue Jackets sending Dubois to the Winnipeg Jets in a one-for-one trade involving Patrik Laine. In one trade, you’d move two prominent players who seem to want out. (Amusingly, Laine, the second pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, would be traded for the player who went third overall.)

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Considering that there are already rumblings about Tortorella benching Max Domi (and, um, Dubois), can you imagine Torts being zen while Laine freelances around the ice?

Chances are, there’d be some serious drawbacks to trading problems, whether the trade involved Dubois for Laine, or perhaps someone like Johnny Gaudreau of the Flames. But it would make for some serious fun for fans, and blogs.

Door 3: An unexpected contender?

In his latest 31 Thoughts column, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman pondered contenders like the Avalanche or Lightning getting involved in the Dubois trade market.

You can probably categorize choices as:

• Best for Blue Jackets: Probably keeping Dubois, though a trade feels almost inevitable.
• Best for hockey fans: A Dubois-for-Laine type blockbuster trade.
• Must mention, difficult to categorize: A splashy Montreal Canadiens swap.
• Best for Dubois: Maybe landing with a contender like the Avs or Lightning?

While the idea is staggering at first, it’s fairly workable — at least on paper. Dubois’ $5M cap hit makes him pretty easy to move.

Such ideas would hinge on the Blue Jackets’ side. For one thing, most indications are that Columbus would want immediate help in a Dubois trade, rather than futures. Teams like the Avalanche or Lightning might present better value if they mortgaged their futures, much like the Brooklyn Nets and other NBA contenders did.

Now, if the Blue Jackets stink this year? Maybe they’d even take on a bad contract to enrich their take even more. Perhaps Kekalainen could even stomach eating some of Dubois’ salary to fatten up a trade return?

Overall, it sounds like a difficult needle to thread, but maybe an interesting one.

Door 4: A step back now for an interesting future?

In Pierre LeBrun’s take on possible Dubois landing spots at The Athletic (sub required), rebuilding teams like the Kings and Ducks received a mention. On face value, that might not appeal to a fiery competitor like Dubois. Not a lot of quality players want to wait to take a big swing at glory.

Then again, there could be benefits. Maybe Dubois would picture the nasty, skilled, sizable centers the Kings could line up with Anze Kopitar and Quinton Byfield already available. Playing in sunny California might be a huge draw if Dubois’ trade demands boil down to location rather than, um, not liking his boss.

When it comes to contenders, one concern might be taking less than a 1C role. Consider how the Lightning have the almost-comical luxury of using Mikhail Sergachev pretty sparingly.

With a team like the Kings or Ducks, he’d likely hold a prominent role, and maybe in a situation that would make him happier.

Of course, the most important factor would be the Blue Jackets’ takeaway, as Dubois doesn’t own a no-trade clause. Rebuilding teams could dangle an interesting mix of prospects and picks to the Blue Jackets in a potential Dubois trade, too.

No easy answers for Columbus

While the Blue Jackets might wiggle their way out of this one, it could also easily be a no-win situation. Things could fester if a trade doesn’t formulate. The Blue Jackets could trade for a good player who would want out too, or get stuck with a big downgrade. Picks or prospects could disappoint. It’s not an easy situation to be in.

But the Blue Jackets’ loss could be the gain for other hockey fans. As they face the Lightning, feel free to picture Dubois on your team. For all we know, it might just happen.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Thompson nets 4 in 1st, 5 overall, as Buffalo tops Columbus

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tage Thompson matched an NHL record by scoring four times in the first period and finished with five goals and an assist as the Buffalo Sabres won their third straight road game, 9-4 over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night.

Thompson is the second U.S.-born player to score five goals in a game. He is the fourth player in NHL history to record four goals in the first period of a regular-season game, joining Peter Bondra (1994), Grant Mulvey (1982) and Joe Malone (1921). He is also the fourth active player to score five goals in a game, joining Timo Meier (Jan. 17, 2022), Mika Zibanejad (March 5, 2020) and Patrik Laine (Nov. 24, 2018).

“It’s definitely a rewarding feeling,” Thompson said. “You’ve spent a lot of years working to get to this point and to be rewarded for it is a pretty good feeling and it just leaves you hungrier.”

Thompson’s outburst helped Buffalo score six times in the first 16:40.

“That was an amazing performance by Tage, and really, the whole group set the table,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “I thought the energy, the collective effort, the focus to start was really good and enabled that to happen.”

Alex Tuch had a goal and three assists, Dylan Cozens added a power-play goal and two assists and Rasmus Dahlin finished with a goal and two assists. Peyton Krebs also scored. Jeff Skinner picked up four assists and Jacob Bryson had two. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen stopped 20 shots.

Patrik Laine and Gustav Nyquist each scored twice for Columbus.

Joonas Korpisalo stopped two shots before being pulled in the first in favor of Elvis Merzlikins, who stopped 15 shots through the second period. Korpisalo returned in the third and finished with six saves.

Columbus has lost six straight home games and five of its last six overall.

“We didn’t have an answer for that one line,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said. “Tage Thompson just tore us up tonight.”

Buffalo dominated from the puck drop, scoring four goals on its first six shots.

Cozens put the Sabres on the board at 3:21 of the first, 53 seconds into a Blue Jackets penalty, and Thompson made it 2-0 just 2:09 later. Dahlin scored Buffalo’s third goal at 7:28 of the first, driving Korpisalo from the net in favor of Merzlikins, who gave up Buffalo goal No. 4 to Thompson 32 seconds later.

Thompson’s third career hat trick and second of the season came on a power-play goal at 12:22 of the first. He followed with his fourth goal, also on the power play, at 16:40.

Columbus scored two goals in just over a minute, with Laine at 10:49 and Nyquist at 12:04, before Buffalo reeled off three straight in just over three minutes to end the period, including Thompson’s fifth, and goals by Krebs and Tuch.

Laine and Nyquist scored in the third period for Columbus.

STREAKING

Cozens has 12 points in his last five games and is riding a career-best, five-game point streak. Thompson has eight goals and five assists in his last five games and 10 multi-point games. Dahlin has a five-game point and assist streak, and Gaudreau stretched his points streak to six games.

NOTES: The Sabres joined the Kraken as the second team this season to score nine goals in a game. … Thompson is the second player in Buffalo history to have five goals in a game, joining Dave Andreychuk, who had five goals and an assist on Feb. 6, 1986.

UP NEXT

Buffalo: Hosts Pittsburgh on Friday.

Columbus: Hosts Calgary on Friday.

Ovechkin, Strome lead Capitals past struggling Flyers 4-1

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Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports
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PHILADELPHIA — Alex Ovechkin scored two empty-net goals, Dylan Strome had a goal and an assist and the Washington Capitals defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 on Wednesday night.

T.J. Oshie also scored for the Capitals, who finished 3-3 on a six-game trip. Charlie Lindgren made 29 saves.

Kevin Hayes scored for Philadelphia, which has lost 13 of 15 games. Carter Hart made 23 stops.

Strome broke a 1-all tie with 10:41 remaining when he deflected John Carlson‘s shot from long range past Hart.

Hayes had a golden opportunity to tie it on a Philadelphia power play, but Lindgren made a great right pad save on a try from close range with 8:20 remaining.

Ovechkin iced it, scoring into an empty net with 1:35 left and adding another empty-netter with 8.2 seconds left for his 15th of the season. Ovechkin has 795 career goals, good for third all-time. He is six goals away from tying Gordie Howe for second place. Wayne Gretzky, with 894 goals, tops the list.

Hayes scored his ninth goal of the season for his team-leading 28th point with 4:14 left in the first period to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Hayes rushed to the bench after breaking his stick on a slap shot attempt, and scored on a wrist shot from the high slot with his new stick.

The Flyers had a power-play goal for the third straight game and have four overall in that stretch. Philadelphia, which began play ranked 30th in the NHL in scoring on the man advantage, now has converted 16.7% (14 of 84) of its chances.

Oshie tied it 3:51 into the second on the Capitals’ fourth power play as the Flyers continued to take sloppy penalties. This time, James van Riemsdyk committed Philadelphia’s third tripping minor of the game. Oshie made them pay with his fifth goal of the season when he finished a nifty passing sequence with Strome and Evgeny Kuznetsov with a perfectly placed one-timer over Hart’s left shoulder.

NOTES: Van Riemsdyk returned after missing the last 20 games due to a broken right index finger. . Flyers forward Tanner Laczynski was placed on injured reserve after departing midway through the third period of Monday’s 5-3 win over Colorado with what looked like an injury to his left leg. . Washington was without several injured players, including starting goalie Darcy Kuemper (upper body). Kuemper was with the team, but missed his second in a row. . Carlson had two assists. . Philadelphia’s Cam Atkinson, out all season with an upper body injury, has been practicing and is close to returning.

UP NEXT

Capitals: Host Seattle on Friday night.

Flyers: Open four-game trip at Vegas on Friday night.

Penguins prospect Sam Poulin taking leave of absence

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PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins forward prospect Sam Poulin is taking a leave of absence from the club’s American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Penguins general manager Ron Hextall announced on Wednesday that the 21-year-old Poulin, Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in the 2019 draft, is stepping away due to “personal reasons.”

“The Penguins support Sam’s decision to take time away from hockey to focus on himself,” Hextall said in a release. “As with all of our players, our priority is them as individuals first. We look forward to having him back with the team when he is ready.”

Hextall said Poulin will return home to Quebec and continue to work out on his own.

Poulin made his NHL debut in October and had one assist in three games before heading back to the AHL. Poulin had four goals in 13 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the time of his decision.

Nathan MacKinnon sidelined about a month with upper-body injury

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DENVER — The injury-riddled Colorado Avalanche will be without leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon for about a month after he suffered an upper-body injury in a loss to Philadelphia.

The team announced the news on social media.

MacKinnon has eight goals and 26 assists for a team-best 34 points this season for the defending Stanley Cup champions. He joins a long list of banged-up players, including Valeri Nichushkin, Evan Rodrigues, Bowen Byram, Kurtis MacDermid, Josh Manson, Darren Helm and captain Gabriel Landeskog. Forward Artturi Lehkonen also missed the game in Philadelphia.

The 27-year-old MacKinnon signed an eight-year extension in August. He was coming off a postseason in which he tied for the league lead with 13 goals, helping the Avalanche raise their third Stanley Cup in franchise history.